The Imation Defender F200 is one of the most secure--and most expensive--USB drives we've tested. At $269 for just 16GB of storage, this peripheral attempts to justify its premium with an ultra-rugged design and a built-in fingerprint reader that promises to protect sensitive files. Is it worth the splurge?
For a thumb drive, the Defender F200 is large, measuring 3.4 inches long and weighing 1.6 ounces. The device has a cover that protects the fingerprint reader when not in use. With that bulk comes added protection: Its casing is a tough metal alloy, and a rubber gasket makes the drive waterproof and dust-proof. A metal ring secures the drive to your laptop lock port or a keychain, but it's really more for looks; there is a clasp that anyone can turn to remove it.
The idea of using biometrics on a USB drive is not new, but Imation does a nice job of walking users through the setup process. To configure the Defender F200, we plugged it into a free USB port and ran the built-in biometrics software. We then ran a wizard that had us scan our finger over the fingerprint reader. This setup process took about 10 minutes, mostly because we had to scan our finger a few times to add the profile, then configure drive partitions and add an administrator account.
The fingerprint reader is not just a gimmick, either: It's rated for Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2 Level 3 validation. We tested the Defender F200 on two notebooks with a few co-workers, and the biometrics locked everyone else out. In a few cases, even our own swipes failed to read correctly--you have to slide straight and slow. Although you can manage multiple users and assign specific partitions of the drive, Imation does not include a backup program of any kind.
Despite lacking USB 3.0 support, the Defender F200 is fast. We copied a 5GB folder full of media files and Word documents to the drive in 5 minutes 46 seconds, which equals a read speed of 14.8 MBps. That's faster than both the Lexar Echo MX (13.9 MBps) and the SanDisk Ultra Backup (9.8 MBps). Still, the USB 3.0-powered Patriot Memory Supersonic (41.3 MBps) blows all of these drives away.
Copying the same files off the F200 took 4:07, which yields a read speed of 20.7 Mbps. That's in between the Lexar Echo MX (24.4 MBps) and the SanDisk Ultra Backup (18 MBps). Still, the Patriot Memory drive took just 55 seconds for a blazing rate of 93.1MBps.
Our main issue with the Defender is its price. The 16GB version we tested costs $269; that's $16.80 per GB. By comparison, the Patriot Memory Supersonic costs $210 for 64GB; of course, that drive doesn't have a built-in fingerprint reader. Imation offers other sizes of the F200: An 8GB version costs $199 and a 64GB version costs $749. That's a lot to pay for fingerprint security.
Overall, the Imation Defender F200 is solid and secure, but a bit too expensive for a drive that delivers USB 2.0 speeds. We're content using Windows 7 encryption techniques and prefer the zippy performance of the USB 3.0 Patriot Memory Supersonic drive. Still, if you're forgetful or paranoid, the F200 is definitely worth a look.